Turkey’s military announced on Thursday that it had gained control of four residential areas in northern Syria as it presses an offensive to sweep ISIS militants out of a patch of border territory and prevent Kurdish militia fighters gaining ground in their wake.
The military said it had taken control of the Kantara, Es Sehid, Al Humran and Taslihuyuk settlements. Turkish tanks and special forces, backed by fighter jets, entered Syria two weeks ago to support mostly Turkmen and Arab rebels in an operation which has secured some 90 km along the border.
On the other hand, Turkey has launched the largest operation in its history against Kurdish militants and the removal of civil servants linked to them is a key part of the fight, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, as more than 11,000 teachers were suspended.
The crackdown comes as Ankara also pushes ahead with a purge of tens of thousands of supporters of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Turkey of orchestrating an attempted coup in July.
Erdogan has repeatedly said he will not stop in his efforts to quash both the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) or followers of Gulen, a network Ankara has labeled as FETO, meaning “Gulen Terror Organization”.
“We have run and are currently running the largest operations against the PKK terrorist organization in its history, both within and across our borders,” Erdogan said.
“Whether it’s the struggle against the PKK or against the FETO, an important dimension of this struggle is the removal of civil servants that are extensions of these organization within the state.”
Turkey has suspended 100,000 people following the failed July 15 coup. At least 40,000 people have been detained on suspicion of links to Gulen’s network and half of those arrested.
The scope of the crackdown has raised concern from rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies who fear Erdogan is using the failed coup as pretext to curtail dissent.
Following the coup, there has been no let-up in the government’s campaign against the PKK in the mainly Kurdish southeast. The group, seen as a terrorist organization by the United States, Turkey and the European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency that has killed 40,000 people, most of them Kurds.